THE GALT ODYSSEY
A STORY OF THE DEVELOPMENT OF CANADA
by, Halcott Green Grant
Assembly Room, A. K. Smiley Public Library
During a period between the 1820s and the first decade of the twentieth century, three generations of the Galt family had an amazing impact on the colonizing and development of the Canada we know today.
First, John Galt, born and brought up in Irvine, Scotland, near Edinburg, an adventurer, poet and author, blessed with great vision, founded the Canada Company in 1826 in London, financed by the deep pockets then available to purchase vast acreage of Crown and church lands in what later became the Provence of Ontario, to found towns, build roads, clear land and sell to newcomers to the undeveloped land. What he started became a very successful venture.
John had three sons, the third, Alexander, after his education, gained the responsibility for a second company, founded by his father, The British American Land Company. This, to develop, in the image of the Canada Company, land in what is today the Provence of Toronto. This led him into railroad building and politics. Elected to the Assembly, he became the first to propose the Confederation of Canada, served as Finance Minister and Canada’s first High Commissioner to Queen Victoria’s Court and was Knighted for his accomplishments.
Sir Alexander’s eldest child, Elliott, with the help of his father founded Lethbridge in Alberta, where he developed its large coal deposits, the rail lines to get the coal to market, and eventually to plan and put into place irrigation to make the land attractive for him to develop. Southern Alberta became a garden spot and the Galt Enterprises in Alberta thrived until in 1907, Elliott sold them to The Canadian Pacific Railroad Company.
THE GALT ODYSSEY
A STORY OF THE DEVELOPMENT OF CANADA
I had always known that my family’s Canadian history was interesting, but when in 1985 I received an ornate invitation to the celebration of the 100th year anniversary of the founding of the City of Lethbridge, Alberta, from His Worship, Mayor Andy Anderson, I found it to be just that. Although I was unable to attend, my son and his wife did. They found, among other interesting sights, Galt Gardens and the Galt Museum!
The reason for the invitation, the reason they went to great trouble to seek me out, was that I am a direct descendent of the founder of Lethbridge, Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt, my Great Grandfather. This prompted me and my son, Bill, to research why he founded the city and whatever else we could find out about him. We found that the Galt’s influence in Canada went back a long way. His father and his son, both, had a huge impact on the development of Canada as the country we know today.
Alexander’s father, John, was born in 1779 in Irvine, Scotland, an important port on the west coast, directly west of Edinburg. His father, also John, was a master mariner who eventually gave up seafaring to become a merchant in Irvine. Young John received much of his schooling there, although details of his early upbringing are scarce. He had some health problems in his early childhood preventing him from partaking in the strenuous play of many of his friends. This resulted in his becoming enamored of books of all kinds, spending endless hours reading, and, coincidently, improving his mind and expanding his horizons. His family moved from Irvine to Greenock where his schooling continued, and upon completion he joined a mercantile firm. There he worked with great promise for several years, but abruptly left and moved to London, I think because he wanted a larger horizon.
There he teamed up with another man, starting a mercantile business, but when their two primary customers went bankrupt, they did too. At this point in his life, having written and published some poetry, he considered writing as a vocation but decided it would not be a viable avenue to follow and that he should focus on a career with a more predictable future than what he had done so far. He decided to study law. He did well in this pursuit, but just as he was ready to go before the bar, he changed his mind again!
He was 30 years old, expansive of mind, and wanted to have some travel and perhaps some adventures. He made plans to travel to the Mediterranean, even though the Napoleonic wars had broken out and travel into those areas was risky. His first stop was Gibraltar where he befriended a Russian Prince named Peter Koslovsky and a British Poet named George Gordon, who had the title, Lord Byron. They traveled onward to Malta, Athens, and the Ionian Islands. John didn’t have the resources of his new friends, so he came up with an idea to thwart the intent of the Berlin and Milan Decrees, (Napoleon’s blockade of European ports to British merchant shipping), and to make a tidy profit for himself. He got the British bureaucracy to go along and the financial backing of a Scottish firm to transport goods into Europe via the Balkans, avoiding French Men of War. He assembled a shipment and set out from Constantinople (now Istanbul), heading north over the Danube and through Hungry. He was chased by Napoleon’s spies to his destination, Widden, on the Danube. There he was supposed to be met by representatives of his Scottish partner, but they never showed. John was stuck, broke, with the shipment of goods on his hands and no buyer, plus being suspected as a spy. Fortune shone on him! A Turk, who once received protection from a Hungarian nobleman, saw in John the needy soul to whom he could pass on the kindness he once received, paid his expenses, took possession of the shipment, and gave him money enough to get home! Probably not a bad deal!
Back in London once again without a job, he was taken in by Professor Alexander Tilloch, a publisher who admired his writing, and who encouraged him to take up writing as a profession. John lived with the Tillochs rent free for a period and wrote an account of his adventures which was published by Tilloch. The book sold well in spite of the critics panning the volume and his writing career was started. He fell in love with Alexander Tilloch’s daughter, Elizabeth, and married her, reaping into the bargain a house in a fashionable part of London and exposure into the upper crust of London society. His writing became very popular, to the extent that he was compared at the time as an equivalent to Sir Walter Scott.
He and Elizabeth had three children, John, Jr., Thomas, and Alexander. Success in his writing meant substantial income, but he spent it as quickly as he got it. He was always on the edge but he did have connections, however, and his reputation had traveled far and wide. In 1820 he received a letter from a cousin in Canada, who offered, because of his connections, to pay him a 3% commission for any monies he was able to retrieve from the Government in payment of war losses to Lower Canadians sustained during the War of 1812, promised, but never paid. The bureaucracy thought it a reasonable idea, but when they insisted that taxes in the colonies would go up to pay for it, it failed. Next, he received a visit from John Brant, a Mohawk Chief from Upper Canada. Again, because of his prominent position in London society, he was asked to use his influence to get the Government to make good on its promise to give the Mohawk Nation a Royal Charter for their land in Upper Canada (now Quebec) in return for their efforts during the War of 1812. John wrote a letter to the Secretary of State, which letter became known as the Tomahawk Epistle, pleading the Indian’s case, and was successful. Chief Brant went home with the Charter.
His financial problems weren’t helped by these episodes, however. In order to save money, he moved to Edinburg. There he was sought out by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Upper Canada, Alexander Macdonnell, who told him of the poverty his flock was enduring due to those unpaid war claims from the War of 1812. He also suggested a way to use the lands owned by the Government and the church to raise the money - sell the land to new settlers who will farm the land and raise the money to pay the claims.
John adopted this idea and formed a company to raise enough cash to purchase the land from the Government and Church and sell it off at a profit. He called it The Canada Company, conceived in March, 1824 and finally chartered on August 19, 1826. It had 1,000,000 pounds invested with 2,484,013 acres to be settled consisting of 1,384,013 acres of Crown Reserves, and instead of clergy lands, 1,000,000 acres of what was called the Huron Tract, east of the shore of Lake Huron in what today is the Canadian Provence of Ontario. Another 100,000 acres were added later to compensate for sandhills, rocks and swamps. The Company paid 344,375 pounds, 7s.2d Sterling, averaging 3s.6d per acre. In the Huron Tract he required that a third of the purchase prices be applied to public works and improvements, and that over a period of 16 years the Government be paid 20,000 pounds the first and the last 8 years and between 15,000 and 19,000 pounds for the rest.
During the time John was creating the Canada Company with his investors and the bureaucrats in London, they neglected to include the Provencal government on their plans in the person of the Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, Sir Peregrine Maitland and Reverend Dr. John Strachan of the church. Not surprisingly, and unbeknownst to John, resentment and opposition existed before he even got started. The resulting negotiations with London resulted in changes to the charter. These were that revenues would not satisfy the war claims owed by the Government, but would go directly into its general fund, and the Huron Tract was substituted for the church lands. These changes made the deal okay with all concerned, but John Galt was not held in high favor because of his political ineptness, regardless of his involvement.
Galt was appointed Secretary of the company by its directors and was sent to Canada on a salary of 1000 pounds per year, to represent its interests and to promote the settlement of the lands now available. It also temporarily solved his financial problems. He threw himself into the task of locating and laying out future cities and towns in the wilderness of the Huron Tract. He chose a site in the central part of the area and named the future city “Guelph” as the headquarters for the whole project in honor of the Royal family. Application to purchase plots of land boomed, and the success of the Canada Company appeared to be assured.
John’s concept of development was to plan the cities and towns throughout the whole area and to build the roads to connect them, trusting that the settlers would come and that access would enhance the value of the land thus made accessible. His scheme was working so well that he summoned his family to move from London to join him in Guelph.
On the first anniversary of the Canada Company, John arranged to have a Ball on New Years Eve 1827 in celebration of its success, but committed an unforgivable breach in etiquette by not naming Sir Peregrine Maitland’s wife, Lady Sarah Maitland as the official hostess. This faux pas embarrassed her and infuriated him. This, on top of the long held resentment dating to the Canada Company founding, caused a behind the scene political effort to get him fired. The Directors in London sent their man, in the guise of an accountant, to check out what was going on. He in effect through his own incompetence, cooked the books, and by the spring of 1829, John was in London trying to justify all that happened, to no avail. The Directors replaced Galt with a permanent Superintendent. To make matters worse, John was thrown into debtor’s prison for non payment of tuition money for his three son’s education prior to their joining him in Canada. The Company had been instructed to pay the bills out of his salary, but had neglected to do so.
Upon his release John successfully turned to writing to earn his keep and to get his family home from Canada. By 1834 the Canada Company stock had increased in value to the extent that the investors made over four hundred thousand pounds in one year! Although he never participated in the monetary return, he was gratified that his scheme worked and his efforts paid off. In 1832 he interested another group of investors in forming another company, The British American Land Company, to do the same thing as the Canada Company in over 300,000 acres of land in Lower Canada, now Ontario, roughly below the St. Lawrence River and above New York and Vermont. He was made secretary as before but was unable to participate because of his declining health. He died in 1839 as the result of a series of strokes.
John’s sons, educated and back from Canada, wanted to go back. They had inherited their father’s love of adventure and believed that Canada’s future was where they wanted to be. In 1833 the older two boys left for Canada. John, 20 years old, and Thomas, 19, got jobs with the Canada Company, John in Goderich on the shore of Lake Huron and Thomas in what was then called York, now Toronto. A year later, Alexander, 18, left go to work for the British American Land Company in Sherbrooke. John farmed in Goderich and later became Registrar of Huron County and Thomas worked for the Canada Company for seven years, then studied law and over time earned a Knighthood as Chief Justice in Upper Canada.
Alexander arrived in Sherbrooke as a junior clerk in the British American Land Company offices, eager to learn. He was tall (6’ 4”), black haired, bright, and full of energy with a very strong work ethic. He worked with his colleagues to build houses, roads, wharves and mills, much as his father had earlier for the Canada Company. Settlers came, but some left when the cold, hard climate became too much for them and many had a hard time meeting their land payments. A French contingent in the Lower Canada Legislature, opponents of the Company called the Patriotes led by Louis-Joseph Papineau, were afraid that English speaking settlers would dilute their influence and didn’t want their land tenants to even think about land ownership. In 1837 they launched a rebellion which was quickly put down, but had the effect of causing the area to sink into a depression. Some settlers abandoned their land, and the Company’s officials were accused of stealing and wasting money on construction at Sherbrooke. To top it all off, the government decided to impose a Wild Lands Tax of a penny per acre on the company’s wild land holdings.
By 1840 things became so bad that the Directors of the company decided to demand that the investors begin to get a return on their money and the Commissioner must collect debts owed them. The Commissioner looked over the people he had for somebody to take on the job of collecting money from the impoverished settlers, and Alexander was chosen for his drive and energy plus his appealing personality. At the age of 23 he took it on - a most difficult assignment. By late 1842 he had successfully completed the assignment and had, in addition, made a report on how he thought the company could improve its financial return.
Alexander’s boss, the company Commissioner, was most impressed with his performance, in particular his report. Since he needed something concrete to report to the Directors, he forwarded Alexander’s report to them. As a result Alexander was recalled to London. He met with the Directors to discuss the report and was told they would need time to consider what their next step would be. He then went to Scotland to see his widowed mother. By the time he was summoned back before the Directors, she had decided to return to Canada with him.
The Directors of The British American Land Company were very pleased with Alexander’s recommendations and sent him back to Canada with a promotion to Secretary of the British American Land Company. His first assignment was to get the Government to forestall the establishment of the wild land tax. He went directly to Kingston to lobby against the tax. This was his first experience dealing with the politicians, and even if he was unsuccessful in getting the tax rescinded, he was successful in making friends with many of the members of the legislature and was advised that, by influencing the local politicos in Sherbrooke, he could get them to delay collecting the tax. This he managed to do, and in fact the tax was eliminated altogether two years later.
Alexander also instituted the changes he had suggested, and they were uniformly successful, and land sales soared. In three years he was summoned back to London and the Directors promoted him to Commissioner of The British American Land Company at the age of 28.
Alexander grew to love and to understand Lower Canada, renamed Canada East along with Upper Canada being renamed Canada West when Queen Victoria united them on her wedding day in 1841, and he recognized that its future depended on its access to the Lakes, the St. Lawrence River, and world trade. Railroads were the solution. During this period a man named John A. Poor of Portland, Maine, had a scheme to build rail lines between Portland and Montreal and Montreal and Halifax. Alexander grasped the potential of this idea and pressed the business elite to provide the financing. He was successful in getting them to embrace the project, and the St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railway Company was created. Alexander was included as a member of its Provincial committee and was accepted by those businessmen as a valuable asset. Some months later, it became apparent that they were not going to be able to raise enough money to finance the whole project, so Alexander was chosen to go to London to get the rest from the deep pockets there. He wasn’t successful and returned to Montreal where he was successful in finding the funding in Canada East and built a 50 kilometer track between St. Hyacinth, next to Montreal and Lonqueil, to the east, completing it in December 1848.
One of the financiers, John Torrance, had 11 daughters, whom he watched like a hawk, and was, along with his wife Elizabeth, described as stern “hard as a horsehair sofa” Presbyterians. He took a liking to Alexander and invited him home. Alexander immediately fell in love with one of the youngest daughters with the unusual, for a woman, name of Elliott. After an appropriate courtship, they married in 1848 and became an immediate social success. In two years she became pregnant, but sadly died while giving birth to a son, Elliott Torrance Galt, named in memory of his mother. After a year Alexander married again to Elliott’s youngest sister, Amy Gordon, who at 18 successfully took over the household and became young Elliott’s stepmother. Together they had 9 daughters and two sons. The eldest daughter, Amy Gordon, named for her mother became my Grandmother, marring Robert Grant of Boston in 1883.
In the meantime, the St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad had accumulated a 50,000 pound debt and Alexander, by finding new investors and issuing stocks and bonds, was able to pay the debts and maintain its solvency. He found a brilliant chief engineer, Casmir S. Gzowski to run it and created a new company, Gzowski and Company as the parent of the St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad Company.
Stung by the political bug, Alexander ran for membership in the legislature from Sherbrooke and won. Through his experience at the British and American Land Company and railroading, he had developed a dream of seeing not only the Colonies of Canada East and West connected by rail, but all the Colonies. Not alone, others were thinking the same way, and a Grand Trunk railway was proposed by a British industrialist, William Jackson. When the issue of funding by loan guarantees for the Grand Trunk came before the Assembly, Galt voted against because of his interest in Gzowski, but when the Assembly voted to back the Grand Trunk, Galt and Gzowski recognized they lost and sold the Montreal to Kingston line to Jackson, thus furthering Galt’s basic dream of an intercolonial rail system. This caused some members of the Assembly to question their motives, and an investigation about their relationship with Jackson’s company began. Galt answered all questions and managed to get out of it with his reputation intact. He decided however, that railroad building and politics didn’t mix so he retired from Gzowski & Co. He never wanted to be accused of corruption again.
Freed from his railroading obligations Alexander devoted his time and energies to the political scene. His dreams of the future of the Canadian Colonies were expressed by him before the parliament on July 5, 1858. He introduced for the first time the idea of changing from a legislative to a Federative Union, subdividing the province into two or more divisions, each governing itself on local issues, with the general legislative government dealing with matters of national and common issues. He felt that the Northwestern and Hudson’s Bay territories should be included when their populations and settlements increased. He also stated that the provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island should be Confederated with Canada and the Western territories. The seated legislators, too preoccupied with the issues of the day, ignored his proposals and went on to other issues. At the time, they happened to be in an uproar over where the seat of the provincial government would be. The men representing Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa, Kingston, and Toronto all were convinced that their city would be the best choice, and were ready to battle to the end. They decided to let the choice be made by Queen Victoria who chose Ottawa. Even so, no compromise was reached, and ultimately the disagreement brought down the government.
Governor General, Sir Edmund Head had to find somebody to form a new government, and Alexander’s name was put forward because he was an independent and well liked on both sides of the aisle. Alexander, however, knew better and had no allusions about how difficult it would be to govern Canada East and West, considered at the time ungovernable by an individual, and refused to accept the job of Premier of the Provence of Canada. He thought that his friends, George Etienne Cartier, a French speaking member from Canada East, and John A. Macdonald from Canada West, might be able to work together. The job was offered to them, they accepted and formed the government, and Cartier became Premier and Attorney General for Canada East and Macdonald Attorney General for Canada West. They then choose a cabinet, and Alexander became Inspector General, the man in charge of the colony’s finances.
The Assembly had listened to Galt’s proposal for confederation and sent him, Cartier, and John Ross, President of the Intercolonial Railroad, to London to lobby Her Majesty’s Government to federate British North America, to transfer the Hudson’s Bay Company territory to Canada, and for money to bail out the Intercolonial Railway. Their initial meeting with Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, Secretary for the colonies, seemed to be encouraging, but over the next several months, in spite of an audience with Queen Victoria and her consort, Prince Albert, nothing came of any of their proposals and they returned home.
Prior to the Cartier – Macdonald administration the finances of the Canadian Provinces had spun into great disarray due to mismanagement, some corruption, and a severe economic slowdown, so Galt, in his new position of Inspector General was faced with huge fiscal problems. These resulted in his establishing import duties on all products coming into Canada, changing the currency to the decimal based dollar, restructuring the province’s debt and working on potential investors in England to get them to believe that the provinces were a good place to put their money. Not an easy task. He also had misgivings about the long range intents of the United States to the south.
In 1861 the War Between the States erupted. The English and their American Colonies expressed sympathy toward the Confederates, and in November 1861 a Union sloop-of-war intercepted the British mail steamship TRENT and took as prisoners of war two Confederate envoys on the way to Europe. As a result, talk of war between the English and the Union was promoted by the press on both sides of the Atlantic. The Canadian government felt very vulnerable and sent Galt to Washington to try to find out what the U.S. intentions were. He met with members of the cabinet and President Lincoln.
Galt told Lincoln that the citizens of Canada had nothing except good feelings toward the United States, but thought there may be intentions to molest them, at least judging from the tone of the public press regarding the aims of the U.S Government and the existence of the large military forces. Lincoln replied that neither in North America nor in England, as he had the best reason to believe, did the press reflect the real views of the government of either. As for himself and his cabinet, he had never heard a hostile expression toward the Canadian people from any of his ministers, and he gave his word as a man of honor that neither he nor his cabinet entertained the slightest aggressive designs on Canada nor had they any desire to disturb the rights of Great Britain on the North American continent. Galt was pleased, and having received permission to relay the message to his Government, did so, adding in his report that he still had misgivings regarding the long range potential threat from the south because of that government being subject to it’s publics impulses.
The subject of actually having to defend the Canadian Provinces caused Galt, Macdonald and Cartier to propose a program of creating and outfitting a paid militia and establishing a military reserve. It would cost money and when the proposal came before the legislature it was roundly defeated. This in turn, angered the Government in England and it wondered if in fact the Canadians didn’t want to defend themselves, was it worth defending them at all. This made it obvious to Galt that the plan for confederation must go through if the British American Colonies were to prosper. If the Colonies were united they would be able to solve political differences and defend themselves in the event of need.
In 1864 the Maritime Provinces began to discuss joining forces for economic advantage. Galt, Cartier and Macdonald saw this as a chance to further the federation ideas. They joined with the Premiers of those Provinces in Quebec City and thrashed out an agreement based pretty much on the confederation plan presented by Galt to the Canadian Legislature in 1858. The measure of Galt’s input to the agreement was substantial. Galt, by his “mightiness in finance, his greatness in statistics, and his amazing political skill, charmed the assembly and, one suspects…clinched the real practicability of the Confederation in the minds of the delegates.” The result was 72 resolutions which were then submitted to Edward Cardwell, the Colonial Secretary in London who without hesitation gave them his blessing. It was another 3 years, however, before the Provincial leaders were able to convince their constituents and the English Cabinet to ratify Confederation. During this period Galt, Cartier, and Macdonald went to London to promote confederation and were met with great courtesy and warmth. Galt was exposed to the upper reaches of London gentry, including the novelist Charles Dickens. He and the Premiers were given a command appearance at Queen Victoria’s Court where they were introduced as diplomats from Canada which disturbed Galt because it made him feel like a foreigner in his Queen’s Court. He got the feeling that the English were using the idea of confederation to get rid of the responsibility of protecting Canada. In spite of those feelings he stuck to his task of working it through the bureaucracy. When the negotiations finally were over and the English Cabinet confirmed the creation of a Confederated Canada, the final terms put Galt’s concerns to rest and they returned home.
The Queen then decided to Knight the primary Fathers of Confederation as recognition of their efforts. However, because Macdonald was to become Knight Commander of the Bath and Galt and his other colleagues Knight Companions of the Bath, a lesser honor, Galt and Cartier turned it down. As a result the Proclamation was withdrawn. The probable cause of this flap was misinformed officials in London. This created quite a stir in Canada. Eventually Cartier became a Baronet, a higher honor than Macdonald, and Galt received two Knighthoods, Knight Commander of the Grand Cross and Second Grade of the Order of St. Michael and St. George, plus a coat of arms with the motto “simper paratus” which means “always ready”, because he was always ready to serve his country.
Shortly after the Knighthood flap there was a banking crisis which Galt tried to solve but when he asked Cartier and Macdonald to back his program, they refused and the bank failed. The result being that Galt, as the Finance Minister, was blamed for the resulting financial panic so he resigned from the cabinet. Freed from the responsibilities of the Ministry he turned to other pursuits. In 1868 Cartier, just deceased, and Macdonald were accused of accepting kick-backs during their re-election campaign and Macdonald was forced to resign. Galt was then hailed as the man to take his place, but he didn’t want the job, and Alexander Mackenzie was chosen instead.
In 1877 Canadian waters were being over-fished by American fishermen, allowed by the Treaty of Washington, and Mackenzie appointed Sir Alexander to represent Canada on the Halifax Commission, which was successful in awarding Canada millions of dollars in compensation from the American Government for the use of the country’s waters and fisheries. His forceful defense of the Canadian position during the conference made him the dominant member enhancing his international reputation.
In 1879 Sir Alexander’s eldest son, Elliott went to work for the Department of the Interior and became Secretary/Clerk to Edgar Dewdney, Canada’s first Indian Commissioner in the Northwest Territories. He wrote his father about the vast plains and its potential for the future. This got Alexander thinking about how such a vast territory could help strengthen Canada’s growing economy. Elliott told him of seeing seams of black coal in the exposed wall of a coulee in the southwest corner of the Territories in a place called the Coal Banks and near the location of Fort Whoop-up, so called due to the effects of the whiskey (firewater) traded to the Indians for pelts and buffalo robes. He spoke with a local who was already mining the coal and selling it to the North West Mounted Police and the Americans in Fort Benton across the border. Because of his upbringing, watching and learning from his father, he envisioned using coal as the means of attracting settlers to this virgin territory. This would require investors to develop the coal mining enterprise which he enlisted Sir Alexander to find.
Sir Alexander was in London, having been appointed as Canada’s first High Commissioner to London in 1880 to promote immigration and trade. He took his whole family except, of course, Elliott and his youngest son, John who was pursuing real estate opportunities in Winnipeg. He was frustrated by the new liberal government headed by Gladstone and was mostly unsuccessful in his efforts. He was, however, able to enlist a group of investors to back the new venture in the Northwest Territories. In 1883 they formed the Northwestern Coal and Navigation Company with land leases for settlers to buy and named Elliott Managing Director. Alexander resigned as High Commissioner and returned to Canada to take part in the new venture.
They, father and son, envisioned being able to transport the coal by riverboat to Medicine Hat in order to fulfill their first big contract to supply 20,000 tons of coal to the Canadian Pacific Railroad. Enormous effort and expense was required to build three steam powered vessels to pull barges loaded with coal. It turned out that the water in the Belly (now called the Oldman) and Bow Rivers was adequate for navigation only from spring to early autumn with the result they shipped barely 200 tons the first year and were forced to abandon shipping by barge. They then decided to build a narrow gage rail line to Medicine Hat. In order to restore their investor’s confidence in the venture, Sir Alexander engaged his old friend and railroad expert Casmir Gzowski who had become one of Queen Victoria’s aides-de-camp to become his consulting engineer. The rail line was completed by August 1885 in spite of being dubbed “The Turkey Trail” by the locals who had doubts that it would ever be completed.
With the completion of the rail line, Galt renamed the town Lethbridge in honor of the London investor and President of the North Western Coal and Navigation Company. It had by this time become a town with 18 saloons, two dance halls and a red light district with a population focused on making money to further their own interests, not on church going. The Anglican Bishop “Saskatchewan Jack” McLean addressed the crowd during the opening of the Turkey Trail with the result the Methodists, Presbyterians and Anglicans all built churches. The building boom didn’t end there, barracks for the Northwest Mounted Police, a barber shop, harness maker, butcher, baker and IG Baker Store all appeared as a result of the economic boost to the area caused by the rail line. So far the town had been situated on the bottom of the coulee formed by the Belly River, 300 feet deep. Expansion caused Sir Alexander to move to the prairie level where he laid out the town much in the same way he and his father had earlier in Guelph and Sherbrooke, with 100 foot wide streets fanning out from a four hectare (ten acre) turning ground for mule and bull teams to turn around and for the populace to play baseball and cricket. It is today the area known as the Galt Gardens. Schools began teaching the kids and the need for a medical facility became apparent. Elliott and Alexander persuaded a young doctor from Ontario to come to establish himself, and they built the Galt Hospital in which to care for the company’s employees and anyone else in need. The hospital building today is the Galt Museum.
Everything wasn’t all roses. The winter of 1886-7 was severe, shutting down the Turkey Trail from January 1st for 80 days. A strike furthered the troubles but somehow they survived. In 1888 Elliott began to explore the possibility of building another narrow gage rail line south to Coutts on the international border, now the terminus of Interstate 15, and on to Great Falls, Montana where an ore reduction plant needed more coal than was then available. The plans were made, the required charters on both sides of the border were obtained, and the line was completed on October 1, 1890. The line dubbed the “Tea Kettle Line” was designated a colonization railway, enabling the settlement of the Lethbridge to Coutts area and the eastern slope of the Rockies in Montana.
The building of rail lines brought with them grants of land to the Galt enterprises. Between the two built lines they totaled about 1.25 million acres! They then created the Lethbridge Land Company Limited to sell to settlers. They found, however that climatic conditions, aridity and short growing seasons were formidable barriers to growing crops. Not only that, but they were in a drought cycle which exacerbated the naturally bad conditions. Continuing coal activity kept the various enterprises afloat but with almost no return for the Galt enterprises. Elliot came to the conclusion that large scale irrigation of the plains using the waters of the St. Mary and Belly Rivers seemed to be the answer. This would require digging about a hundred miles of ditches and the removal of over a million tons of dirt, mostly by pick and shovel.
Sir Alexander and Elliott traveled to London to promote this idea and in 1893 by an Act of Parliament the Alberta Railway and Coal Company was empowered to start the irrigation project. The Alberta Irrigation Company (later called The Canadian North West Irrigation Company) was chartered for that purpose. That same year the Alberta Railway and Coal Company leased its Dunmore to Lethbridge rail line to the Canadian Pacific who changed it from narrow gage to standard so the coal could be shipped directly to the consumer. They started another line from Lethbridge to Fort Macleod and a telegraph line to communicate with the Northwest Mounted Police on the St. Mary River and Cardston. By this time Sir Alexander, now 76 was slowing down and discovered that he had cancer of the throat which took him by September of that year. The entire Dominion of Canada, which he had had such an influence in creating mourned his death and he was buried in his family plot at Mount Royal Cemetery in Montreal.
Now it was Elliott’s task to continue to pursue the interests of all that he and his father had created and to realize returns for the investors who had put their trust in the Galt’s vision of the area’s future. The region was in a recession and there was scarce working capitol. In 1897, the new Interior Minister, Clifford Sifton, recognized that developing southern Alberta would further his policies and arranged to refund the balance of the survey dues charged to them as a result of the land grants from the government. Canadian Pacific Railway payments in cash began to flow from the lease of the Dunmore to Lethbridge line and additional funds raised in London by Elliott, because of the government’s support, got things going again. Elliott realized that there was no expertise in the area on how to efficiently raise crops using irrigation. He traveled to Salt Lake City and made a deal with the Mormons to establish a Mormon colony to provide the labor and expertise to dig the irrigation canals in return for half cash and half land at $3.00 an acre plus water rights. By 1900 the irrigation canals were completed and water began to flow.
The availability of water made the land far more attractive to settlers and by 1905 was selling for up to $8.00 per acre where their cost was pennies for the million-and-a-half acres obtained as land grants in return for building the railroads. Finally, the Galt Enterprises were paying off. Elliott’s health was being impacted by his non-stop efforts to provide for his family and himself, so in 1907 he successfully negotiated the sale of all of the Galt Enterprises to the Canadian Pacific Railroad Company. He retired to Victoria, B.C. where he lived a quiet life until his death in 1928.
The Montreal Gazette said of him the day after he was buried in the family plot that he was a builder and colonizer. His finest monument was to be found in the thriving prosperity of southern Alberta, where he had labored through good years and bad in the development of the resources of that country and in making a vast garden out of what had been wilderness. A week or so later the Manitoba free Press printed on May 26, 1928, “the Galts… had raised cities and populated the uninhabited wastes. The man who died a week ago had done for the West what his father and grandfather had done for the East… Is it to be wondered that the name of Galt is held in reverence by those who know the romance and the grief of the development of the Dominion, East and West?”
Greg Ellis, Archivist, the Sir Alexander T. Galt Museum, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, 2008
Jane Harris, STARS APPEARING: The Galts’ Vision of Canada
Printed in Canada, www.visionsofcanada.com, 2006
H. B. Timothy, THE GALTS, A Canadian Odyssey, in two volumes.
John Galt 1779-1839, volume 1
Alexander Tilloch Galt 1817-1893
Elliot Torrance Galt 1850-1928, volume 2
McClelland and Stewart Limited, Toronto, Canada, 1977
Robert Grant, FORESCORE, an Autobiography, Houghton Mifflin Company, the Riverside Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1934
Springett, Evelyn Cartier, FOR MY CHILDREN’S CHILDREN, Unity Press, Montreal, Canada, 1937
John Galt, AN ABRIDGMENT OF THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF JOHN GALT, G. W. Wardman at the Commonwealth Press, Letchworth, Herts, England, 1926
Alex Johnston and Andy den Otter, LETHBRIDGE, A CENTENNIAL HISTORY. Published by the City of Lethbridge and the Whoop-Up Country Chapter, Historical Society of Alberta, Lethbridge, Alberta, 1985
HALCOTT GREEN GRANT
Born in Columbia, South Carolina in 1927, and moved to Weston, Massachusetts with his family in 1929.
After graduating from Harvard College with the class of 1948, he worked for United-Carr Fastener Corporation, a designer and manufacturer of fasteners of all kinds, and then became a Manufacturer’s Representative, representing companies in the custom plastic, metal and rubber component manufacturing business. He sold his business in 1997 to one of his sons who is currently running it successfully.
He married Cornelia Paine of Redlands, who was attending school in Boston, in 1953. They lived for most of the next 50 years in Weston, raising 4 boys and a girl. They moved back to Redlands in 1999, buying her family homestead in 2000.
He served as a Trustee and President of the Meadowbrook School, a small private primary school in Weston, as a member of the Town of Weston Building Committee and as a member of the Town of Weston Finance Committee for 7 years.
He is a member of the Society of Colonial Wars in Massachusetts and California, and is a Fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society, founded in 1791. He served on the Board of Directors of the Redlands Symphony Association.